School Challenges Revisited in Parenting my Baby Bee
I didn't expect to feel anything special when my Baby Bee began Kindergarten two weeks ago since she'd already been in full day child care for the last two years, but as soon as I dropped her off I felt a tingle of anxiety manage it's way into my back and up my shoulders. My Baby Bee was now part of a new hive of educators and students that is only partially accessible to me as her mother. I learned this as I tried to go back through the schools gate, which was suddenly locked. I had to negotiate with no less than two staff members and a door buzzer to get back in. This was simply to get to the PTA-sponsored "Boo-hoo" breakfast for Kindergarten parents-- I can only imagine if I'd asked to go back in just to peek at her. So I am now entrusting my Baby Bee to the Arizonan education system, and to be honest, I'm nervous. My little brown skin baby is shades darker than most of her peers, which is both a joy- knowing we are in the age of integrated schools, and anxiety producing-with a federal government administration that supports white supremacy. I have to wonder what her educational future will hold. Two days after she began school I read that the ACLU of Arizona has identified that black students in charter schools get suspended 8 times as often as their white peers, while latinx students are suspended 6 times more often. What will peers, teachers, and principals teach my daughter about her blackness? When I was a child I remember a teacher forcing me to color over a completed portrait of myself to make it darker- the skin from beige to brown and the hair from brown to black. As an artist and a woman of color this still frustrates me. The same year as a third grader in a new school, I learned from some peers that I was black and from others that I was mixed. I learned that my hot comb pressed hair was "good hair" even though the texture was probably similar to the texture of my peers (many more melanin rich than myself) who got relaxers early on due to having unmanageable "bad hair." Two new schools later, in fifth grade, a peer called me the n-word and I found myself in trouble. In sixth grade I remember telling peers that people think my mom is white and that annoyed me because she wasn't. Again I found myself in the principals office. That was the same year they taught us about "tolerance" in school-- tolerating other people and their cultures, not accepting or embracing, but tolerating. When my best friend told me and another friend that one of our female teachers had sexually assaulted her, the disclosing friend was suspended and the other friend and I got in-school suspension for libel. Mind you I was overheard expressing my horror that a teacher violated my friend, not making up lies with the intent to harm anyone. Looking back my conclusion is that I grew up in a system where little black girls aren't to be trusted, especially against the word of a white female teacher. In Tenth grade, again in a new school, I was unceremoniously kicked out of my theater program for standing up to antisemitic comments made to my best friend. When peers refused to tip our waitress at our school outing my friend did so on their behalf. She became the target of anti-Jewish sentiments and slurs, which offended me in part because hate speech is wrong, but also because these slurs inadvertently targeted my own Jewish heritage. I was horrified and asked my teacher to intervene. She stood up for the students, citing free speech. I lost my patience and yelled at her (I had already learned administration wouldn't be on my side if I went for support). Administration agreed the teacher and students were wrong, but they also let me know that my new career options were now nursing or cosmetology. Back to the present...it's two weeks into the school year and my daughter shared with me that her teacher informed her she has dark brown skin, which is both untrue and irrelevant. We've already been through her daycare provider labeling her behavior as dramatic (which belittles her expressiveness, a quality black women toe the line with) and labeling her hair as poofy (which is always pejorative when white people discuss their own hair) and a "best" friend telling her that having brown skin makes her a boy (likely because the only brown skin child she knew other than mine was a boy.) With each instance that comes up, we discuss the issue matter-of-factly, I correct misinformation, acknowledge confusion and hurt feelings, and we get on with our day. So why does this matter in the context of maternal and general mental health? As a multicultural brown mama of a brown baby, her experiences bring up my own unresolved pains and traumas, giving me new opportunities for deeper healing. Furthermore all moms (all parents) are given the opportunities to heal our old wounds through identifying triggers as they come up in raising our children. And lastly, if you are involved in the rearing of children, please make sure to be mindful of your impact, be aware of your words, and examine your attitudes and opinions so that you don't let your unchallenged beliefs of white supremacy affect the children you've agreed to care for. What we believe about children and the way we treat them will impact the way they view themselves, the way they view others, and their mental health.
How do we as parents heal these old wounds? I don't assume to have all the answers but I do have some clear ideas- We acknowledge and examine our wounds. We talk about them, we see where they affect our lives. We release the shame associated by them in part by sharing our private experiences with others whom we trust. We take action where we can. We do our best to protect our children and consciously and supportively walk with them through their own challenges. We look inside to see what we need to forgive and release and commit to doing so. And we work with mentors, coaches, and therapists to get past our blind spots or sticking points in the healing process.